While the Massachusetts FY 2024 budget increases spending generally, the state legislature plans to cut education funds slightly by $5 million, allocating part of the remaining funds to diversity initiatives, free education offerings, and support for “vulnerable populations,” including the LGBTQ community. Governor Maura Healey’s signed the budget on August 9.
A brief provided to Campus Reform by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education enumerated where the state funding would be funneled.
“The bill includes major wins for education and immigration advocates,” wrote WWLP, a local Massachusetts TV station, “including funding for universal free school meals, clearance for students without legal immigration status to qualify for lower public higher education tuition rates and state financial aid if they attended a Massachusetts high school or got a GED in the state, and a commitment to allow everyone over 25 to attend community college for free.”
Of the budgeted funds for higher education, Massachusetts portioned $20 million for MassConnect, described by another executive budget brief as a program that “empowers students to complete their education and pursue training for in-demand jobs across industries” by offering Massachusetts residents over 25 years of age free associates degrees by enrolling at a state community college.
Eligible recipients must be 25 or older, a resident of Massachusetts for at least a year, a high school graduate or something equivalent, a pending recipient of a FAFSA grant, and a student enrolled in at least six credits at a community college.
“MassReconnect funds free community college certificates,” the brief reads, “and degrees including all costs related to tuition, fees, books and supplies.”
The state is set to spend another $18 million on “holistic supports and services to improve outcomes for their most vulnerable populations, including low-income, first-generation, minority, and disabled students and LGBTQ+ students.”
Yet another $18 million is set to be spent on “additional diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at [the University of Massachusetts] and state universities.”
The state Department of Education’s 2023 Strategic Plan for Racial Equity sheds light on what those initiatives might include. The report declares three priorities to establish “infrastructure to drive racial equity.”
The report states that the first priority is “align[ing] the appropriate resources and funding to this work,” including “build[ing] a case for revamping the state’s funding formula to distribute state funds equitably and incentivize racially equitable outcomes.”
Second, the state will develop “data capabilities” to evaluate where progress has been made.
Finally, the state will fund programs to hold “institution stakeholders”—including faculty and students—accountable and “equity-minded.”
Several representatives of the Massachusetts legislature were contacted for comment but have not yet responded. The article will be updated accordingly.